Rural advocates: Consult us on changes aimed at rejuvenating country villages

Seamus Boland

Irish Rural Link has said services in local communities are being diminished at a time when the Government has launched a number of initiatives aimed at rejuvenating those same towns and villages.

Ahead of its annual conference, which begins today, the organisation called for any planned or proposed closures of services such as post offices or Garda stations to stop immediately until a new protocol on rural services is formed.

Irish Rural Link CEO Seamus Boland said such a protocol would ensure that, in addition to economic and value-for-money analysis attached to any planned closure, an evaluation of the social and community consequences should be factored in under what he said should be a structured framework for making those decisions.

Irish Rural Link was particularly vocal during the recent Bus Éireann dispute, expressing fears for the health of country communities were bus routes pulled or altered. It also has concerns over the mooted closure of many rural post offices under plans by An Post to overhaul its network.

Mr Boland said: “The axing of bus routes and closure of post offices and banks in rural towns and villages over the years have meant these towns and villages have almost disappeared.

“We have on the one hand, a new Action Plan for Rural Development, launched at the beginning of the year, and a Town and Village Renewal Scheme also launched to rejuvenate and revitalise small towns and villages, while on the other, closures to the very services that are needed to keep these towns and villages alive.”

He said IRL had called for a structured consultation process to take place prior to any closures or loss of services. He said it would allow input from communities and allow them to put forward proposals to avoid closures or to make alternative suggestions.

“There needs to be more joined-up thinking by Government and stakeholder to avoid contradiction in policy and to ensure the full implementation of the Action Plan for Rural Development,” he said.

The focus of IRL’s annual conference this year is ‘Micro Enterprise — A Key to Rural Employment’, and Mr Boland said the necessary services needed to be in place to ensure these enterprises can survive and grow.

Mr Boland said Brexit could be a negative factor and so issues raised by those smaller companies will be addressed at the conference.

“With rural areas the problem has always been the creation of employment and how that is done,” he said, referring to issues such as broadband, transport, and even the relative strength of electricity in rural areas compared to levels available in cities.

The conference is taking place at the Sheraton Hotel, Athlone and will be opened by Denis Naughten, the minister for communications, climate action and environment.

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